Lafenburg, a duchy of northern Germany, since 1865 united with the crown of Prussia, but in point of administration entirely independent. It borders on Lubeck, Mecklenburg, Hamburg, and the Prussian provinces of Hanover and Schleswig-Holstein; area, 454 sq. m.; pop. in 1871, 49,546, all but 155 belonging to the Evangelical church. It has a very fertile soil, extensive forests, and a number of picturesque lakes. The principal river is the Elbe. The chief products are corn, vegetables, flax, hemp, fruit, and lumber; agriculture and cattle breeding are the occupation of the majority of the inhabitants. The diet of the duchies consists, according to the constitution of Dec. 20, 1853, of the Erblandmarsehall, an office which is hereditary in the family of Bulow, 2 provincial councillors, and 15 deputies chosen for six years (5 of the noble estates, 5 of the towns, and 5 of the peasants' estates). The provincial councillors are appointed for life, and constitute with the Erblandmarschall the Landrathscollegium, which shares with the government the right of convoking the diet.
The government of the duchy consists of a president (Landdrost) and two councillors at Ratzeburg, subordinate to the minister for the duchy of Lauenburg, who resides at Berlin. From 1865 to 1874 this office was held by Prince Bismarck. The highest judicial resort is the supreme court of appeal at Berlin. In the budget for 1873, the revenue and expenditure were estimated at $313,000 each. The public debt amounted to $1,224,000. The capital is Ratzeburg, and there are only two other towns, Lauenburg and Molln. - Henry the Lion of Saxony conquered the duchy of Lauenburg from the Slavic tribe of the Polabs (i. e., dwellers on the Elbe). It then remained for some time a subject of dispute between his descendants and the Saxon dukes of the Ascanian line, until in 1227 it was occupied by Albert I. of Saxony, whose younger son, John I., became in 1200 the founder of a separate line, Saxe-Lau-enburg, which became extinct in 1089. In accordance with a family pact, concluded in 1369 with the house of Brunswick-Luneburg, the duchy fell to the duke of Brunswick-Luneburg-Celle, after whose death it was inherited by George I., elector of Hanover and king of England. In 1810 it was incorporated with the French department of Bouches-de-1'Elbe; in 1813 it was reoccupied by Hanover, and in 1815 ceded to Prussia, which in the same year transferred it to Denmark in exchange for Swedish Pomerania. By the peace of Vienna, 1864, it was ceded by Denmark to Austria and Russia; and by the convention of Gastein, Aug. 14, 1805, Austria, in consideration of a sum of 1,875,000 thalers, left it to the sole possession of the king of Prussia, who formally took possession of it as duke of Lauenburg, but without consolidating it with his other dominions.